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Japan fans look for second RWC upset

2015-09-23 12:01
Michael Leitch (Gallo)

Tokyo - Excitement was growing across Japan that the country's players could prove their Rugby World Cup win against South Africa was no fluke when they face Scotland on Wednesday.

Saturday's 34-32 victory over the 1995 and 2007 world champions - the biggest upset in tournament history - provided a huge and timely lift to national spirits and allayed fears of losing hosting rights to the troubled 2019 tournament.

The recent decision by the cost-cutting Japanese government to scrap plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic stadium has left rugby officials scrambling to find a new venue for the final amid concerns over the country's ability to stage the event.

One organiser of a public screening of the match at a cinema in Higashi Osaka, one of the venues of the 2019 World Cup, said oval-ball fever had taken off since Saturday's amazing victory.

"After the win, we received a lot of calls about the event from people, especially those who were not interested in rugby before," he said of the Scotland clash in Gloucester, which kicks off at 15:00 on Wednesday.

"I hope Japan's great performance over there will lead to further enthusiasm in the sport before we host the World Cup in 2019," he added.

Japan's newspapers, where sports pages are normally dominated by their players' exploits in US Major League Baseball, were ramping up the enthusiasm for the normally low-key game of rugby.

"We should not let people say 'The upset was just a fluke'," the Nikkan Sports daily blazed across its pages in a headline.

The Tokyo Shimbum said Japan would have a chance to win if they could disrupt Scotland's start.

"(Japan) are about to stir up a big splash again that surprised the world," the paper declared boldly.

 People who confessed they knew little about rugby before Saturday's historic win said they would be watching avidly on Wednesday.

"I did not know the Japanese national team is so strong," said Sachiyo Kita, a Tokyo office worker.

"I usually have little interest in sports, including rugby, but I want to watch the game on TV tonight," she said.

Staff at Tokyo sports bars were preparing for a bumper night.

"Usually we have not seen so many fans for rugby games, but we are preparing in case the floor is filled with people tonight," said one female employee at a sports bar in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district.

Japan rugby shirts were reported to be selling out fast at sportswear shops and were also topping the sales charts at online shopping site Rakuten.

Japan had only previously won one World Cup match, against Zimbabwe in 1991, before Saturday. But with confidence sky-high, captain Michael Leitch told the pre-match new conference that Japan would be going for nothing less than another victory.

"The team has been preparing to win," Leitch said. "Last time we (played) were beaten by Scotland but that's nothing to do with this time," he said.

"You only feel pressure when you don't know what you are doing," said Japan coach Eddie Jones, who coached Australia when they lost to England in the 2003 World Cup final.

"Last Saturday showed the world order of rugby can change, so the pressure is on Scotland and on World Rugby."

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